Will your future clothes be made of seaweed? : Information Center
Rochester researchers are using 3D printing to create a new eco-friendly material made from algae that has applications not only for energy and medicine, but also for fashion and space exploration.
Living materials, which are made by harboring biological cells in a non-living matrix, have grown in popularity in recent years as scientists recognize that often the most robust materials are those that mimic nature.
For the first time, researchers from the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, 3D printers and a new bioprinting technique have been used to print algae in living, strong and resistant photosynthetic materials. The material has a variety of applications in the energy, medical and fashion industries. The research is published in the journal Advanced functional materials.
“Three-dimensional printing has proven to be an effective technology for making living materials that have many environmental and other benefits,” says Anne S. Meyer, associate professor of biology at Rochester. “Our photosynthetic living materials represent a huge step forward for the field, as they are the first example of a photosynthetic material designed that is physically robust enough to be deployed for real world applications.”
The work to develop a biologically based material is the latest in a series of research efforts led by Meyer’s lab. Meyer and his research team have been leaders in the use of bacteria to develop industrial materials such as artificial mother-of-pearl and graphene.
How to build new materials: living and non-living components
To create the photosynthetic materials, the researchers started with a non-living bacterial cellulose – an organic compound produced and excreted by bacteria. Bacterial cellulose has many important mechanical properties, including flexibility, toughness, strength, and the ability to hold its shape, even when twisted, crushed, or otherwise physically deformed.
Bacterial cellulose is like paper in a printer, while living microalgae act like ink. Meyer and his colleagues used a 3D printer to deposit living algae on the bacterial cellulose.
The combination of living (microalgae) and non-living (bacterial cellulose) components has resulted in a unique material that has the photosynthetic quality of algae and the robustness of bacterial cellulose; the material is strong and resilient while being ecological, biodegradable and simple and scalable to produce. The plant nature of the material means that it can use photosynthesis to “feed” itself over periods of several weeks, and it can also be regenerated – a small sample of the material can be grown in place to make more materials.
Artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins and organic clothing
The characteristics of the material make it an ideal candidate for a variety of applications, including new products such as artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins or photosynthetic biological clothing.
Artificial leaves are materials that mimic real leaves in that they use sunlight to convert water and carbon dioxide – a major contributor to climate change – into oxygen and energy, just like leaves during photosynthesis. The leaves store energy in chemical form in the form of sugars, which can then be converted into fuel. Artificial leaves therefore offer a way to generate sustainable energy in places where plants do not grow well, including, potentially, colonies in outer space. The artificial leaves produced by Meyer and his colleagues are additionally made from environmentally friendly materials, unlike most of the artificial leaf technologies currently in production, which are produced using toxic chemical methods.
âFor artificial leaves, our materials are like taking the ‘best parts’ of plants – the leaves – which can create sustainable energy, without needing to use resources to produce parts of plants – the stems and roots – who need resources but don’t. t produce energy, âsays Meyer. âWe make a material that focuses only on sustainable energy production.â
Another application of the material would be photosynthetic skins, which could be used for skin grafts, Meyer says. “The oxygen generated would help restart healing in the damaged area, or it might be able to achieve light-activated wound healing.”
Besides offering sustainable energy and medical treatments, materials could also change fashion. Organic clothing made from seaweed would remedy some of the negative environmental effects of today’s textile industry in that it would be high quality fabrics that are produced sustainably and fully biodegradable. . They would also work to purify the air by removing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and would not need to be washed as often as conventional clothes, which would reduce water consumption.
âOur living materials are exciting because they can sustain over periods of several weeks and can be multiplied in place, so they have the potential to be truly sustainable and can be shared all over the world as easily as the sourdough, âMeyer said.
Graphene is a revolutionary nanomaterial, the discovery of which led to a Nobel Prize. By mixing graphite and bacteria, scientists at Rochester are making graphene easier and more environmentally friendly to produce, paving the way for future products and applications.
Create the human model
Doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center have developed a new way to use 3D printing to make artificial organs and human anatomy that mimic reality, even to the point of bleeding when cut. These models are capable of creating highly realistic simulations for training and may soon be widely used to repeat complex cases before surgery.